Media History Monographs 11:2
Phrack 2same people who are interested in breakinginto the code of these programs and systems toexamine how they can be made more efficientand more secure.As a group, hackers defy a clear,overarching definition because they exist inthe liminal space between the fears and thedreams of how technology is shaping society.Inquisitiveness and a desire to push the boundaries of what something can do comprisethe essence of hacking. For example, Levydescribes the MIT Tech Model Railroad Clubas an early hacker group because theymodified and incorporated discarded telephoneequipment into their existing model railroadsystems.
This is an excellent example of hacking that does not conform to thevernacular usage of the term. Jon Ericksonstates, “There are some who will still arguethat there is a distinct line between hackers andcrackers, but I believe that anyone who has thehacker spirit is a hacker, despite what laws heor she may break.”
Yet, like hackersthemselves, the “hacker spirit” is also difficultto define.Perhaps another difficulty in solidifying aclear definition of hackers stems from thecompeting definitions that come from hackersthemselves, the mass media, government andlaw enforcement agencies, and legislation.Even within the hacker community, definitionsof what it means to be a hacker are contested.The various definitions may have differentcriteria for inclusion and exclusion but theimposition of a definition may carry seriousconsequences. Yar points out that “thecontested nature of the terms [hacking andhackers] . . . shows how hacking, as a form of criminal activity, is actively constructed bygovernments, law enforcement, the computer security industry, businesses, and media; andhow the equation of such activities with‘crime’ and ‘criminality’ is both embraced andchallenged by those who engage in them.”
A particular group’s self-definition is not theonly possible definition, and questions of definition are important—especially whensuch definitions carry the possibility of a prison sentence. As hackers have becomerhetorically constructed as terrorists ingovernment and media discourses, hackershave worked to provide alternate definitions of hackers and hacking.Despite the intricacies and contradictions of hacker identity, some core tenets can bedistilled through their writings.
, anonline hacker journal, is one of several hacker texts that provide hackers with a way of seeingthemselves and their place in the world byreporting on and defining the exigencies thatspurred hackers into creating a shared identity.This essay examines how
framed twosuch exigencies, Operation Sundevil and thearrest of Kevin Mitnick, which helped shapehacker collective identity. Other scholars havetraced the history of more mainstreamhackers
; this study seeks to provide analternate history of the more subversiveelements of the hacker movement by closelyexamining these two defining moments asrecorded in the pages of
The Politicization of Hackers
Before delving into
, we must firstexamine the events that led to its creation.Some scholars argue that the politicization of the hacker is a relatively new phenomenon.Douglas Thomas states that hackers had morelimited political agendas in the 1970s and1980s and that most attacks were then directedat the phone company but that “more recently,in the wake of the AT&T break up, with therise of the Internet, and with the increasingglobalization of technology, hackers have begun to engage in more concerted politicalaction, at both local and political levels.”
Thomas identifies Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc)as “the first hacker group dedicated to a kindof political action based on principles of civildisobedience and visibility, and . . . the firstgroup to connect hacker identity with thenotion of political action.”